A sad fate for good chocolate

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I suppose I can not sue the No Name brand company. For starters, what would I look under for contact information. I could sue No Frills maybe, for only carrying No Name brand mini marshmallows. As a major grocery store chain I expect them to offer products that are not DEFECTIVE!

How can you mess up a marshmallow so bad? I ran into a similar problem last summer when No Name marshmallows were the only kind we could find at the store for our camping trip. Roasting marshmallows, basic right? Isn’t that what marshmallows are mainly for? Well, you can’t roast a No Name marshmallow. As my friend so accurately put it, they turn into little bags of pain (crusty on the outside, molten liquid on the inside). Not really that edible until you let it cool, a lot, at which point, it becomes a cemented mass. Who product tested these!?

And now I have discovered you cannot bake with No Name mini marshmallows either. I was making my rocky road chocolate chip cookies. Glorious and decedent and all in prep for the bake sale at my daughter’s school on Saturday. Theses cookies use 9 ounces of good chocolate, melted with butter and white chocolate chunks added just before baking. So freakishly awesome, they sell super fast and at a good price. Or would have if I had used real marshmallows. Instead, I was alerted by the fire alarm almost seven minutes before they were meant to come out of the oven. Running into the kitchen, I was greeted with black smoke pouring from the oven vent. Panic ensued, windows were opened and the newest knitting magazine became a fanning object to stop the piecing noise. As for my cookies, the problem became apparent when I took them out of the oven.

All of my marshmallows had melted away, leaving black, scorched trails of burnt sugar and gaping holes in my cookies. The rest of the cookie was beautiful, exactly as it should be, but they are no longer bake sale material. I cursed up a storm but that can not bring back my cookies to an edible state.

So I will mourn the loss of good chocolate and try to bake my last bit of dough on a much lower over temp to see if that works. Perhaps in the shape of a person with ‘No Name product manager’ written on it’s chest. Then fate can decide between death by consumption or dissolving body parts.

I try not to be vindictive Mr. No Name, but don’t sabotage my baking.

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Avocado Pie

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A friend of mine served this to me at her house. I’ll admit, I was dubious. Until bite one, then I was a glutton. Something about the creamy, mousse like texture and the lime undertones made this pie so decadent. She had finished hers off with lovely little whip cream rosettes. I did not get that far. This picture was taken within an hour of me making the pie.

My teen was highly dubious. “You can go ahead”, she stated. “I don’t like avocados”. That changed when she saw the piggy way my youngest and I were scarfing it. Finally caving to the offered taste, her eyes bugged slightly as her face transformed from preemptive grimace to mild rapture. Nothing makes that girl run like the thought of missing out on good food.

The recipe-

  • 2 large or 3 small avocados, just turning black (slightly firm to the touch)
  • 1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1 can of sweetened, condensed milk (300 ml)
  • graham cracker crust (there has been much speculation as to whether chocolate would work. If you go for it, let me know)

Peel and puree avocados together with lime juice. Mix with condensed milk until smooth. Pour into pie shell. Refrigerate for an hour to set.

Yes, that’s it. Possibly the easiest recipe in the world and decedent enough to take to a family dinner. I may enter this in the next pie competition I do just to see what happens. To finish off, my teen got the last piece. There was a series of texts which ended with her begging and threatening me, just a little. Finally appealing to my role as a dessert provider in her sweet way of being funny and menacing, both at the same time. I believe she was won over.

The start of the texts had been this-

Avocado pie, avocado pie, if I don’t get some, I think I’m going to die,
Give away the green grass and give away the sky,
But don’t give away my avocado pie.

Almost finished, but enough for victory dance

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My first finished sweater! And it wasn’t even for me. My husband loves it, it fits perfectly and it was a cheap, quick knit. Who could ask for anything more.

ImageImageI still have to put in the zipper mind you, and it is a little badly timed to get it done just as the weather gets warm. But the chill and damp seems to be holding on for dear life so who knows, maybe he’ll get a chance to use it a couple times before it gets stored away for fall. Also, what you can’t see (quite intentionally so), is all the loose ends of yarn that I have yet to weave in. My daughter, however, loves weaving ends (how blessed am I) so I might work out a little deal. She needs money, I have other things I’d rather be doing; it’s a symbiotic relationship.

The other thing I may end up doing is enlarging the collar a little. Easy enough. I seemed to have been the only one out of all the people I know who made this sweater to have followed the pattern recommendations. Oh well, all in all, I’m very happy with it. It’s pure wool, but soft enough that it doesn’t bother my husband much, even though he usually finds wool too itchy. I’m really glad to have found this yarn because the game of touchy-feely my husband and I have been playing with yarn, as I try to find something he’ll be able to wear, that I can actually also afford (he has mentioned that cashmere, silk and alpaca seem fine) has been going on for over a year. I owe thanks to my friend at my favourite yarn shop for this one.

Now to get on to my doctor who scarf again. Should have it done by fall.

Afternoon Sweet Tooth

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Making the trip to St. Lawrence Market is always a mini-adventure. I rarely walk out of there without bags full of exotic vegetables, meats and sauces. My usual meanderings include a stop at the stone oven bagel stall and at least a half hour of cheese tastings but yesterday I was there with Spatula Goddess, and we had a more specific task in mind.

After extensive tastings of real vanilla extract, Spatula Goddess had decided months ago, that Saffron brand vanilla had the best flavour for the best value. I have not had the chance to experience this brand yet, as I was fully stocked with excellent British bourbon vanilla when she posted her findings. Eager to bow to her wisdom, now that I am running low on vanilla, the two of us trekked out to St. Lawrence Market and explored the crowded baking supply shops buried in it’s bustling underbelly.

Alas, no luck. The shops where we had seen it before did not have any in stock so we bought a couple other supplies and planned our next move at a pigeon invested seating area outside in the sun.

Crepes and dessert were an easy solution to the afternoon. And luckily, we were right near Le Papillon, a good place for both.

I love the atmosphere at Le Papillon on Front, but the food can be unpredictable. Spatula Goddess and I were both seduced by the description of the apple, bacon and old cheddar galette. Upon our first few bites, we both agreed it was delicious and were sated enough that we allowed the waiter to take away the little cup of unfinished maple syrup without being tempted to drink it (well, I thought of it, but resisted).

This was my dessert

The Chocolate Cake was not quite what I expected from the description, ending up being more of a lava cake. Also, I would have prefered if it had not come swimming in watery, cold custard sauce. It was quite tasty, but the presentation, textures and temperatures of the components sucked away a little of my enthusiasm. Much of my delight during dessert instead came from watching Spatula eat her lemon tart, which had been everything she hoped for.

We have agreed that this is a good start to what should become at least a monthly tradition. Restaurants and sweet shops, here we come.

Saffron vanilla, we will find you yet.

 

Before he gets dangerous

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I apologize for my long absence between postings. There has been much craziness, and also a petulant relationship that has formed between my camera and my computer. As I’m not sure who started it, I’ve been hoping they’ll work it out on their own. In the interim I may have to play favourites and replace one of them. So far this threat has yielded no results.

In the meantime, I have another relationship that it has come time to terminate. Stan has expressed, through no small amount of degradation, that he would like to be put to rest now. For previous posts on Stan click here.

My husband is greatly reluctant to part with him, as he has become a bit of a mascot in our kitchen and his slow transformation has been morbidly fascinating. However, I won the fight when we found potato bugs hiding behind him on the ledge. If he has become a bug king of any kind, it’s time for him to relocate permanently.

Stan the potato zombieSo, it is been decided that giving Stan a proper burial is going to be our first official ritual of spring (right after our first use of the BBQ and before getting our taxes done and somewhere in the middle of spring cleaning). I’ll have a proper wake, with frittata, latkes and stuffed potato skins.

It will be fun to see if he blooms into a big plant during the summer. Maybe there will be a new crop of little ones for fall.

Cake art

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I had too much fun making these.

I hadn’t really thought when I begun this semester that cakes would hold as much interest for me as some of the previous items we’ve made. Since then, though, I’ve had a couple dozen new passions develop that made me rethink that inspiration. I’d love to say I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I begun the course, but in truth this has mostly been a new experience for me and I’m enjoying each part better then the last. We started the course with bread, and I’d never made bread from scratch, and that was the coolest thing. I found myself thinking “I could totally do this for a living”. Not baguettes though, I hated baguettes.

Then we did coffee cakes and I thought that they were even better then bread because they were like bread, and like dessert, and that was even better. And then we did cakes.

Now I wasn’t high on the cakes at first but when we started the fancy cakes, class just became too much fun. One day we’re piping words and pictures out of melted chocolate, the next, we’re crafting flowers and fruit out of marzipan, which is basically just playdough that you can eat and actually tastes good. I’m nearly 40 and school is like kindergarten again, only I might be able to do this the rest of my life and get paid for it. Plus I get to eat sweets in class everyday.

If you asked me a month ago if I’d consider doing wedding cakes when I got out of school, I’d have said “not really”. Well, then I made these…

It was hard to imagine eating these almond paste flowers, so we haven’t yet. But I guarantee they will not live the week.

Not sure if I will be making wedding cakes in class anytime in the near future, but I think I will consider making them after I’m done school. I’m rather smitten right now.

My Bag of Shame

There’s a free gym at my college campus and now that my schedule is a little less crazy this semester, I may actually find the time to make use of it. This becomes an especially large concern when our baking component of this semester focuses entirely on cakes. Now, I know I don’t actually have to eat the pretty things just because I’m making them, but i’m an eater by nature, and the curiosity factor becomes a little too high when everything we make is either a new kind of cake I’ve never tried, or a variation of one that I’ve had before. Crumbs get nibbled here and there, and I occasionally lick frosting from my fingers. The bigger problems are that I end up taking a cake home every time because I want to show off the decorating job to family and friends. Also, i know my kids appreciate the treat (although two to three times a week means its less like a treat and more like an expectation).The biggest adaptation I am going to have to make however, is learning to waste. To be honest, I am cheap. Throwing food away has always seemed an incredible sin, especially when there are children starving in Africa (isn’t that what our mother always told us?).So what do you do with a bag of stabalized whip cream? That was what we spread upon our devil’s food cakes and strawberry short cakes. It’s whipped cream that has a bit of something called “toppit” added to it to keep it from becoming runny. “You mean I can store it for an entire week and it will still be like freshly whipped cream?!””What? We’re throwing all the left overs away? Hell no, just put it all in this bag and I’ll take it home.”What is wrong with me?Not that I was complaining. The kids and I had whipped cream on our hot chocolate, our strawberries and blueberries, our desserts; I even put some in my coffee in the mornings, it was awesome. Eventually I realized it was going to outlast it’s uses and I was able to toss the rest away. My scale and i have a mutual agreement to not have any conversations for at least a month while I develop the ability walk away. In the meantime, I now have a bag of cake and a bag of frosting in my fridge. I may figure out something to make with them (and give it away) or I may just let them go moldy so my husband tosses them out.

Pig with an Axe and Santa at Gunpoint?

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What do these 2 things have in common? They were both images on the Christmas cards my brother proudly brought us from Taiwan.

It was so wonderful to see him again, as it’s been 2 years since the last time he was able to come visit. And though he didn’t have too much extra room in his luggage to haul gifts with him, the offerings he did bring were fabulous.

He explained to us that in Taiwan, stationary stores are incredibly impressive and some of the most popular shopping destinations. Having been in one when I visited him many years ago, I can relate to the extreme temptation of collecting tiny creature shaped erasers and note paper with sumo pandas locked in mortal combat. The cards available for special occasions range from elaborately beautiful to truly bizarre. As Christams is not an essential holiday in Taiwan, they get to have a little more leeway with the seriousness of their related stationary.

Here is one of my favourites.

Despite the fact that wanting to pick up an axe and go mental is actually a common emotion around Christmas, I was really puzzled by the angry pig as a Christmas image. However it was all explained within the card.

In case you can’t tell, the axe was to cut open his piggy bank so he could afford to buy you a gift. There were many tears but the spirit of love and giving prevailed.

I think soon I will have to go visit my brother in Taiwan again. I’ll make sure to let him take me shopping when I do.

Still finding beads on my floor

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Well, now that the last of the Christmas beaded presents have been delivered, I can post about the addictive and pervasive beading week that I roped my children into this year.

The big problem, of course, with three people all doing different beading tasks at once is that the room in use kind of becomes a huge, sprawling landscape of tiny coloured spheres and containment attempts are never 100% effective. Also, that room was the main dining/living room area, because the craft room of my dream house is still an elusive fantasy. Needless to say, other activities that this space was previously used for, such as eating, began taking place in obscure locations or downstairs in front of the television.

Daughter finishing some of her projects

By the end of the week we were all pretty happy with the results of our labours. Here’s a few of the finished projects.

The hardest part about beading is trying to find stores with affordable supplies. Being in Toronto, I always have the option of going to a high end beading store and buying small strings and individual beads for a decadent premium. However, seeing as this was meant to be a way to encourage my children to finance their own gifts this year, we buckled to the corporate demon and bought the bulk of our beading supplies from Walmart. To help my kids out (and because this was mainly my fault), I paid the high overdue fines on the beading pattern library books we forgot to renew.

 

Gingerbread House

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My friend and I entered a gingerbread house competition. The house mostly came together in the last two days, as my friend and I live nowhere near each other and the competition was smack dab in the middle of our last two exam weeks (yes, there was a lot of procrastination). Between panicked e-mails we boiled sugar, food-coloured marshmallows and did experiments with cookie dough and chocolate. All in all, it was a lot of fun and a very educational experience. The time we did have in her apartment assembling and decorating the final product went pretty well. There was a little snark, and perhaps a couple of minor freak-out moments but we both still have all our limbs and are still friends so I think it was a success. She has reminded me a couple of times what a huge mess I left her, but I paid for all the supplies and did all the traveling so I’m calling it even.

Here was our entry. Unimaginatively called “Rustic stone cottage”. We didn’t get a chance to finish all the things we wanted to do with it, because we kinda ran out of time. These pictures were taken a couple of days after, so some of the colour had started to run.

The back window was almost a disaster but between my stubborness and props created during my friend’s playtime with marzipan we ended up with this

Another view

Though we didn’t place in the top three, we got an honourable mention for our house as “the best place to hide out from the cold”. I was content (although winning one of the Cuisinart prize packs would have been kinda awesome, but then my friend and I would have had to figure out how to split stuff up).